san francisco garden

My green urban patch

  • Adelaida Mejia
  • 10/6/22

When I was in the market for a house in San Francisco, I had one condition: a garden. I remember the first time I saw my future home. At the very back of the lot, a massive vine had grown to inordinate proportions overtaking an adjacent 3-story wall. A storm brought it down and collapsed into the garden, covering it almost completely. You could barely see the surrounding ancient retaining walls. Aside from the vine, the land itself was almost entirely bereft of other living flora, and judging by the amount and variety of "stuff" we found in the ground, we determined that it had likely been a garbage dump for years. But there it was, an urban parcel — large by city standards. While at first hard to make sense of, the potential of this unusual site was most intriguing to me.


I am not a gardener. That was my first realization after the romantic idea of the garden found me and sunk in, and I was faced with the responsibility of the task ahead. But I knew what I wanted to experience when I was out there, so I set out to begin my work, and my first step was clearing and remediating this space. I had heard that winemakers used Biodynamic agricultural methods to support and sustain their hard-working land and thought to myself: let's begin to give this patch some support. I researched, found, and purchased the Biodynamic preparations and spent a few months giving those to the soil as directed. I could see the potential for an oasis in the middle of the city, and I knew that if I continued feeding the soil, it could become something special. But there was a lot of work ahead. 



Over this period of time, we experienced how the soil recovered, turned a deep black, smelled fresh, and looked luscious. And so my work began. Discovering what was there, deciding what to keep and what to plant; I kept the old roses, planted a couple more, kept the plum tree that probably grew from a pit in the garbage dump, and added lemon, fig, orange, and tomato trees, plus a spaliate apple with four varieties, all in the same tree. Other additions included salves, drought-tolerant plants and grasses, lavender, rosemary, and a variety of herbs that rotate yearly to cook with and make tisanes. With help, I have been working on this garden for 20 years. 






Now, my garden is a slice of heaven. In the Spring and summer, it's full of color and life, and in the fall and winter sun, it's a peaceful refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life. There is life here. We have bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and the occasional preying Red Tail Hawk. One of my favorite roses is the Cécile Brünner rose. Old school. It tells me Spring is here in earnest. I collect the fragrant blooms to make full small bouquets for each room in the house. I also use its long stems to adorn properties I have on the market. Some winters, I leave the spent flowers on the rose bushes for winter and collect the reddish seed balls left on the tips of the stems, Rosehips. On warmer nights, the scent of Lilac and Jasmine fills the air. Their season is short and intense.









From the trees, I make apple pies and galettes in the late summer. In the fall, preserved lemons. Sadly, the figs are not very happy here, but I have not completely given up on them. The plum tree is extremely generous and gorgeous when it blooms. We eat the sweet plums fresh off the tree or baked or make syrup, but I want to learn to make plum wine. A few years ago, I was at Flora Grubb and found a tomato tree. I got one and planted it, and they are coming in at last. I can't wait to see how we can use them. I hope that they will be delicious.







It takes time to grow a garden and I feel so grateful for our patch of urban green. It's a reminder that no matter where I am, I can always usher in a bit of beauty and peace. And I am glad that having a garden was my directive when looking for a home as it also expands our interior space. Here we come together to celebrate birthdays and holidays, and the people we love deeply are all invited. It offers a respite from the busy days and a place to connect. My friend Todd gave me white barbed iris bulbs from his garden. They were his grandmother's. And our garden loves them. Our dog, Red, loves the garden. He has a special obstacle course that he demonstrates when the family is together.















We have come a long way. I am very grateful for the lessons and the gifts. But lately, I have been thinking about where to take the garden next. Some time ago, I worked hard to find a house with a great garden for my client and friend Sonnet, who is an inspiring gardener. She recently sent me this luscious photo of her roses captioned: "today's harvest." And I asked myself: a rose garden maybe? Ah, so much beauty and history in roses. While at the same time, I was also deeply inspired by Richard Christiansen, who created the gorgeous urban project Flamingo Estate in Los Angeles. At a much larger scale, alas! But I think of it as a goal.


I am looking forward to the journey—an urban estate in the city I love. San Francisco.





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